God allows each of us to suffer in the way and to the extent that is most beneficial for our soul.
Doesn’t it always seem as though others have it easier than we do? We can be so sure sometimes that our cross is heavier and our lives more miserable than the next person’s. So we’re prone to grumble and complain and perhaps even become jealous and resentful of what appears to be another’s good fortune. At the very least, we are certain that they can’t possibly be suffering as much as we are.
When I see this temptation creeping into my thoughts, I’m reminded of the parable of the widow and her two measly coins.
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood."(Mk 12:41-44)
The most frequent interpretation of this Gospel is that Jesus is using the example of the widow to teach about charity and being free of attachment to material goods. Personally, for me, it’s not just about the money. There’s a lesson here, too, on exercising charity about the suffering of others and one’s own.
When we’re experiencing a particular kind of suffering, it’s easy to assume that others who aren’t suffering in the same way are not really suffering at all. For example, if we’re struggling with un- or under-employment, we can be envious of people we know who have great jobs (despite, perhaps, their inferior talents) and assume that their lives are troube-free.
But we don’t know the whole picture. Those who are employed full-time may not be scrambling for work, but they may be struggling to re-unite a divided family or to bring their children back to the Church. Just because they don’t carry a cross like our own, doesn’t mean that they don’t carry one.
Sometimes we do know the whole picture – or at least a good part of it – and still judge our suffering to be worse than others’. How many times have you listened to a friend lament over a difficulty – say, a physical ailment – and thought to yourself, “Oh, give me a break! You love to complain, but it can’t be that bad!” Maybe it is that bad. Or maybe it’s even worse. Because we think we’d be able to cope with their illness or disease better than they are doing, that prideful thought doesn’t mean that it is easy for the other to cope.
In all of these cases, the parable of the poor widow has a good lesson for us. The widow gave two small coins out of her own limited resources. She contributed all she had. It could be that those who seemingly don’t suffer as much as we do are contributing all that they have, too. Just as each person’s pain threshold is unique, each person’s capacity for suffering is unique. The cross that may be exceedingly heavy for one person to carry might seem fairly light for another.
God allows the amount of suffering that is specifically tailored to the individual. He doesn’t "assign suffering" randomly – and most certainly not cruelly – but with great love and care. Our suffering is just that: our suffering. And though all people commonly suffer due to the effects of original sin, we don’t bear a common suffering. Yet, we all do our best to bear the suffering we’re given, according to our abilities and shortcomings.
The widow gave to small coins, and for her, that was a fortune. We have to remember that when we evaluate our own suffering and the suffering of others.
Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker and a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life, including Strengthening Your Family: a Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Find out more about Marge at www.margefenelon.com.